Americans have had for a long time this love affair with superheroes. Heck, Marvel has created an empire on it. In the Pilot of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, that connection was cleverly planted in our minds in the very first scene, when the character (or monster, or freak) of the week’s son stood outside the storefront and saw all the action figures of The Avengers, aka the Heroes of New York.
Heroes do come in all shapes and sizes. A billionaire in a metal suit, a monster, a costumed superhero from the 40’s and one very well built alien God. (Quote of the night: “I don’t think Thor’s technically a God.” “Well you haven’t been near his arms.”) A hero also can be the average person who has the heart to do extraordinary things. It’s a popular Whedon theme, and one that every single one of us can relate. Everyday heroes exist too.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Pilot was everything I had hoped for. After all, I knew we weren’t going to get The Avengers II out of this. It’s television. What we did get though was the fallout from the events of The Avengers. After the alien invasion in New York, the world is a different place. It did exactly what a Pilot episode is supposed to do, establish premise and introduce characters in such a way where we want to come back next week and beyond. It was all done with the Joss Whedon trademarks; sharp dialogue, characters that at least mildly sparked my interest, pacing that kept me engaged the entire hour, and action and special effects that didn’t look low budget, even if they really were. Okay, the digital graphics of the flying corvette was noticeable, but the rest worked for me.
Sure, the story had a bit of a procedural feel, but it was relatable. After all, what would you do if you’re down on your luck and the world was suddenly aware of superheroes and aliens not of this world? What would you do if your son, the only thing you have left in this world, looked up to these heroes and not his father? If given a chance to be strong, to be powerful, to be a hero, in those circumstances who wouldn’t take that chance? It’s hard to believe it all comes with a catch, or isn’t what it seems. Not when you’re a good person.
“You said if we worked hard, if we did right, we’d have a place. You said it was enough to be a man. But there’s better than man. There’s Gods. And the rest of us, what are we? They’re giants, we’re what they step on.”
“I know, I’ve seen giants up close, and that privilege cost me, nearly everything. But the good ones, the real deal, they’re not heroes because what they have that we don’t, it’s what they do with it. You’re right Mike, it matters who you are.”
“I could you know, be a hero.”
“I’m counting on it.”
Those words exchanged between Agent Coulson and the character of the week parallel exactly the mission of S.H.I.E.L.D. For those that may have known nothing about the mission of the agency (or perhaps needed a reminder like I did), that was clearly spelled out in an early scene by Agent Ward. “It means we’re the line between the world and the much weirder world. We protect the people from the news they aren’t ready to hear. And when we can’t do that, we keep them safe.”
You’re not going to get a more recognizable, unsung hero in the current Marvel world than Agent Phil Coulson, aka, the dead guy from the movie The Avengers. It was his death that rallied to heroes to work together as a team. We quickly learn after Agent Coulson’s amusing emergence from the dark corner there’s a security level out there that even the Avengers don’t have. That’s the level where Coulson is alive, and there’s an unheard of team out there still working to keep the world safe. Now Coulson is tasked again with putting together a new team, but this time his faked death is not an option.
Coulson has chosen a band of misfits, but he believes in them and what they bring to the table. I love how they are travelling in an outdated (but still really cool) black plane for command central, because as we learned in the movie the helipad might be a bit much, and Coulson still clings to his classic and most beautiful red corvette (who can blame him!). What’s old is not necessarily obsolete. We also quickly learn that Coulson’s miraculous survival and supposed recovery in Tahiti isn’t what it seems either. That’s the TBD… which will no doubt keep us engaged for a while.
There are some elements of this TV show that blend well with the movies, even if it is obvious you’re watching a TV show. S.H.I.E.L.D has some cool toys. This team has two techies, not just one, and they are using their mighty gadgets to their greatest advantage. I did laugh though at Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) using little drones to sweep the crime scene, because my son has one of those exact flying drone toys. We bought it on Amazon. Still, their use was pretty damned creative, and it made it believable. He and Jenna Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) had some great quirky chemistry and add a very nice blend to the team.
Then there’s the rest of the team, which is still rough around the edges. They all have been pulled into this by Coulson, and while each one had their close interactions with him, they will no doubt be spending the next several episodes learning how to work with each other. They’re also coming to the team with baggage, which is exactly what needs to happen with a TV show. That opens up plenty of potential material for character growth and drama.
Ming Na’s character, Melinda May, is hiding from something possibly tragic and we don’t really know why Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton) was brought onto the team, against his wishes nonetheless. Sure he had a history with the organization they were trying to track, Rising Tide, but Coulson saw something more in him. A specialist who’s great on espionage, and not so much in the people department, which was blamed on his personal history. Coulson seems to know how to handle him though, and it’s quite creative to inject truth serum on your own guy to gain favor with a perpetrator that can help. Skye (Chloe Bennet) was obviously on S.H.I.E.L.D’s radar for a while and Coulson saw something in her, so there’s some chance for an interesting backstory there. There was plenty of mystery behind her and where she came from. I’m also hoping that Cobie Smulders will make more appearances, or even join the cast full time, once How I Met Your Mother wraps up.
For those having doubts about the team, Joss and Jed Whedon were even smart enough to address that in this sharp script. The question was asked to Coulson by Ward, “Come on sir, what game are you really playing?” We never did get that answer, and that question will likely take us through the upcoming weeks.
In between all this team building and cool techno babble, the theme was very clear. Ordinary people, everyday heroes, strange times. These guys don’t have super powers. They have heart. Coulson remains an idealist, and one with a renewed purpose given his recent brush with death. He believes that his team want to do the right thing too, and it’s his job to guide and push them into doing more than what they think is possible. They are there to serve all citizens and failure is not an option, especially a single father of a young child. “Don’t ever tell me there’s no way. It’s on you. Get it done.”
Pilots are meant to be big attention grabbers, and the good ones usually throw the kitchen sink at you. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D pilot was a grand success. The real challenge now begins, keeping up that momentum in episode two and beyond. Almost every show is a letdown beyond that point, but with the right character development and as long as Agent Coulson remains the heart and the strong center of this team, the show will continue to thrive, no matter what crazy type of plots and gimmicks are thrown our way. Joss and Jed Whedon and team know that their audiences are a little too smart for smoke and mirrors every week, so their success hinges on keeping our appetites for action satisfied while bringing us rich characters and sharp dialogue that make us care, make us want to root for the good guys. I think they made their intent clear with Phil Coulson’s final line of the episode.
“We’re not exactly a team. But we’re in a position to do some good.”
Tell me, when you saw the entrance bay of that plane, how many of you thought of Firefly? It did have an similar look and feel, just maybe a bit more high tech. Speaking of Firefly, Ron Glass!! Yes, I know I wasn’t the only one that squealed over seeing him.
Who loved the Thor: The Dark World promo? Come on, show of hands. Me and the whole family loved the Thor promo, and watched it a few times. Funny how the excuse of saving the world gets you out of hot water with your girlfriend. Plus, Loki!
“This is a disaster.” “No, it’s an origin story.” Well at least our hero/freak of the week understands his comics!
If you can believe, our local station here actually bust into a breaking news alert during the opening scene of this Pilot! The most anticipated and celebrated airing of a show in this network in years! I wouldn’t want to be that station manager. Fan boys and fan girls can be pretty damn vicious, and this time they have big point.
I’m eager and ready for more next week. What did you all think of The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D pilot?